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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #18 of 54: Ethiopia | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #20 of 54: Gambia »

May 27, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #19 of 54: Gabon

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 19. GABON Flag of the Republic of Gabon

Formal Name: Republic of Gabon.

Term for Citizens: Gabonese.

Capital: Libreville. Population: 573, 000.

Independence Achieved: August 17, 960, from France.

Major Cities: Libreville.

Geography:

Gabon is in West Africa. Gabon covers 103, 347 square miles. Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Congo and the Atlantic Ocean. Gabon lies on the equator. The coastal lands is flat, followed by a rugged higher lands covered by tropical rain forest. The entire country lies in the Ogooue River Basin. Most people in Gabon live along the banks of this river and its tributaries and practice fishing and or farming. Gabon has tropical climate and has two distinct seasons, wet and dry.

Society:

The population of Gabon is estimated to be 1,329,000.

Ethnic Groups: Fang, Bakota, Shira, Adouma, Galoa, Orungu, Enenga, Okande, Seke, Mbede, are the major ethnic groups.

Languages: Fang and other African languages. French is the official language.

Religion: Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

Education: Universal free primary education and junior secondary education. Literacy is estimated at 63%.

Economy: Traditionally, the people farmed their lands and fished. But with the discovery of petroleum the oil industry has become the dominant sector of the economy. Urbanization attracts people to cities, particularly the capital and they engage in non-agricultural trades. The public sector is expanding. GDP estimate: $7 billion; Per Capita GDP: $3940 (World Bank, 2005) Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BEAC (XFA).

History and Government:

Portuguese and Dutch traders visited the coast of Gabon beginning in the fifteenth century. In the 18th century French trading ships began to call on Gabon’s ports. The French annexed the country in the 1880s. Slaves who rebelled in 1849 established Libreville, the capital. Upon independence from France, French presidential democracy was established but soon President Omar Bongo transformed the country into a one-man government. He has been in power since 1967. Opposition leaders are generally severely dealt with and or forced into exile. The country is divided into 9 provinces.

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

The earliest people who lived in what is now called Gabon were the Pygmies. The Bantus from West Africa swept into the region during the Bantu expansion. Gabon today is largely composed of Bantu groups, the largest of which is the Fang.

The Europeans made incursions into what is now Gabon during the three hundred years slave era (1500-1800s).

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Europe scrambled to colonize Africa and France, in 1885, colonized what is now called Gabon. Gabon was part of French Equatorial Africa until 1959.

In 1961, Gabon gained independence from France and Leon Mba became the first elected President and Albert Bongo was his vice president.

Upon the death of Mr. Mba in 1967, Mr. Bongo became the president. He is still the President, and is Africa’s longest serving president.

Gabon was an insignificant agriculture based economy until oil was discovered off shore. With oil money Gabon took on more geopolitical importance; the French and other Nationals poured in. It is estimated that there are over 10, 000 French men alone in Gabon.

The politics of Gabon is the political behavior of its one man ruler, El Hadj Albert, Bernard Omar Bongo (he converted to Islam in 1973). He structured the government after France’s fifth republican constitution, with a president elected every seven years, a nominal National Assembly and a putative independent judiciary, except that the President essentially determines every thing in Gabon. In 2003, Mr. Bongo amended the constitution to permit him run for office however many times he wants and has been in office a year short of forty years.

Gabon is divided into 9 provinces and 37 departments.

The economy of Gabon is currently based on Petrodollars. As long as oil prices are on the rise, Gabon enjoys a thriving economy, but tends to suffer financial difficulties when oil prices plummet downwards, as was the case during the mid 1980s. At present, Gabon is enjoying plentiful oil revenue. This revenue gives it the opportunity to develop the country. This is enhanced by the fact that Gabon has a small population hence the people can benefit more from the oil revenue than they would if the population is large. Even after pilfering by Bongo and his coterie, enough money is still left for the people of Gabon. Gabon has the highest income per capita in black Africa, US $3940 (World Bank, 2005). Gabon’s population is so small that it imports foreign workers to meet its labor demands. Africans from other countries flock into Gabon for work.

Omar Bongo is an autocrat, no doubt about that. However, he has managed to procure political stability for his country. The ethnic tensions that mark several African countries seem absent in Gabon. This social stability attracts foreign investors to Gabon and currently Gabon is a haven for foreign investors and the economy is thriving. But Bongo obtains this ability by repressing dissent. Though nominally he changed the constitution in the 1990s to permit multi party completion for political offices, but the system is structured in such a manner that his ruling party has the upper hand. Opposition parties often boycott elections for they believe that the outcome of elections are already predetermined before voting. Whether the claims of opposition parties are true or not, the fact is that unless Gabon becomes truly democratic, it would, sooner or later, descend into political Chaos, particularly when the Bongo crowd is finally driven out of office or when their head, Bongo, dies, as he must (he was born in 1935). In the meantime, the government controls the media and makes sure that there is very little opposition to Bongo’s one man rule.

ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at May 27, 2006 11:14 AM

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